Wrong plan. Wrong moment

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Can't Oak Park ever do something simple? Can't we ever take the less expensive option? Can't we take the admirable, even essential, goal of collaboration between our units of local government and accomplish it without spending $6-10 million in taxpayer dollars?

Apparently not.

Because on Monday night, after months of private (I might go so far as saying secret) discussions, the park district, the elementary schools and the village government unfurled the most expensive, most illogical concept to accomplish the admirable goal of combining the parks and the elementary schools into a single headquarters building.

The elected boards of the parks and the schools want to build a brand new building, and they want to build it on the parking lot at village hall.

Has anyone else noticed that Madison Street is empty? As in vacant? Do we recall that of that vacant land the village government holds the deed to multiple parcels? Oak Park and Madison and the old Volvo dealership come to mind. Then there are the three buildings that the parks and the schools already own on Madison Street.

So the street is empty and the decision is made to pile a new building onto the already inadequate parking lot at village hall. Because we want to create a new parking mess? Because village hall, nestled in a residential neighborhood, needs more traffic? Because we want to pay for an underground parking facility when there have been vacant lots and empty foreclosed houses available a block on either side of village hall for several years? And what happens to the current underground parking used by the police department?

I am totally supportive of the parks and the schools sharing a facility. Makes all kinds of sense. The current school admin building has been a wreck since the district hurriedly bought it in the 1970s. I like the idea of congregating local governments on Madison's east end. Makes the same good sense it made in the mid-'70s when Oak Park moved its village hall from Lake and Euclid to the fragile east end of the village. The east side of the village is healthy, but the east end of Madison remains fragile with its collection of wig shops.

So instead of moving the schools into the parks headquarters — remember the gymnastics center is moving out of the headquarters, remember the building and grounds department is moving out of the headquarters — that building has now been deemed as too old. Seems to me that building was renovated from a decrepit auto repainting franchise into the park headquarters just 25 years ago. With up to $3 million already set aside by the park board and the schools to renovate and combine, how "too old" can the park building be?

The alleged upside to building on the village hall parking lot is that the current parks and the schools headquarters can both be sold and put back onto the tax rolls. Whose rich fantasy is that? Just what Madison Street needs, more retail inventory!

The only thing I like about this plan is that the District 97 warehouse moves into the overlarge and still brand new village public works garage on South Boulevard. Might have been a conversation they had before they built that $30 million structure but still a good outcome.

All sides say that Monday's grand unveiling is just the starting point for a public discussion. Can't wait to hear this discussion among local taxpayers who are swimming in their tax bills, bills that were enlarged by generous referendum votes in recent years for both the parks and the schools.

I don't think that a new $6-10 million headquarters is what voters had in mind.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

20 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Stephen Miller from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 19th, 2012 6:14 PM

Great column, Dan. The village has to understand, and obviously doesn't, that these are financially challenging times. When Oak Parkers are clipping coupons, scrounging for deals, struggling with foreclosures and job losses, and even, heaven forbid, dining in less expensive Berwyn restaurants, our leaders should be far more attuned to what people are feeling. Here is some perspective. The Oak Leaves Building (a/k/a 1140 Lake St, a/k/a where Penzey's Spices is located) recently sold at auction for less than $2,000,000. That is about 50,000 sq. ft. of very serviceable office space. Would it be perfect for the purposes under discussion? No. There would be challenges for parking, location, age, and access. So I'm not saying the village SHOULD have bought that building. What I am saying is that they would be heroes to the hard-working people of this village IF they came forward with a creative, modest, sensible, frugal, in-step-with-the-times answer LIKE that.

Suggest  

Posted: September 15th, 2012 12:36 AM

This irrational project and right on top of it again comes the narrowing Madison Street project? What next? Scheduling construction of both projects at the same time?

Taxpayer  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 7:22 PM

So let's stand up and vote these people out of office. Its time to hold our elected leadership accountable.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 2:18 PM

Dan, great points! In addition, it's possible that the Open Meetings Act was violated as all four options discussed involved publicly owned structures or publicly owned properties.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 9:26 AM

Well said Mr. Haley. Watch out board...election issue.

Mary Rodrigo from Oak Park  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 9:00 AM

Enough already!!! It's beyond time to live within a budget. I fail to see how any part of this dream has any benefit to taxpayers. If it's broke, fix it. That's what the rest of us do. Building new is the most expensive, most idealistic, most wasteful of our tax dollars. Shame on you for entertaining this thought.

Znuff Already from Oak Park  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 1:40 PM

It's refreshing and encouraging to see the WJ supporting the residents, instead of rubber-stamping another financial debacle. But be warned Mr. Haly that Mr. Hubbuch might tell you to quit whining.

4 Freedom  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 12:10 PM

Invest in business and buildings? How about invest in the residents? Why is so much of the focus on business when it takes lots of people with money to support a business. Unfortunately, Oak Park isn't accessible to most people so they choose to live elsewhere.

Unfortunately  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 11:21 AM

@Adam Smith. Yes, there IS a "problem" - it's that the board spends too much time in an echo chamber with the staff - and the staff is telling them how TERRIBLE their facilities are! They just spent 20 pages on a presentation which said...nothing...other than having a big and brand new bldg would be great for Madison and, thus, Oak Park! "QUANTIFY"? As I suspect that you realize, "there's no there, there!" But they'd LOVE a new office, desk and chairs! Educational benefit for kids? Ha, ha, ha!

Adam Smith  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 10:03 AM

I am happy to help find a solution if I am convinced there is a problem. Let them explain in DETAIL what they believe is the problem and QUANTIFY how this problem ADVERSELY affects the taxpayers. At that point, let the taxpayers decide on a solution. Does that sound fair enough?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 8:15 AM

Straw man. Diversion.Trap.What if the Village Board, bruised from all sides for not listening to commissions and citizens, sets up a really bad,costly idea only to have the idea objected to so the Board can come back and say,"we listened to you"? John Kennedys first run for Congress, by magic,was a three way race with the two other candidates sharing the same name.

OP   

Posted: September 13th, 2012 6:04 AM

We should take the money from this and invest in developing a cohesive business strategy which makes money for city. Further, in a time when many families are struggling (yes in Oak Park), spending $50MM between Ridgeland, gym center and this is obsurd. PLEASE STOP

Spot on Suggest!  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 5:47 AM

Spot on Suggest, why isn't the Park District creating space in the barnd new gymnastic center? it will have plenty of parking, and mostly empty during the day. And lets face it the ice rink will also be mostly empty, so if they were building a new facility with more parking, instead of less parking, they could put their office there. And both of those properties are close to public transportation!

Suggest  

Posted: September 13th, 2012 12:05 AM

I suggest the village board, school boards and park district board stop these ridiculous and outrageous ideas. How about putting the park district offices in the new multi-million dollar sports complex? Let District 97 share space at the high school. How much will this cost? No where near 6-10 million dollars. Times are tough, suck it up!

Suggestions  

Posted: September 12th, 2012 3:39 PM

I think we need to put forth better suggestions instead of complain about the costs. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons behind why they are narrowing down to this option. Sick of trolls on these feeds. Come up with solutions that will make a difference already.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2012 1:21 PM

Unfortunately, you can tell a republican by the way he combs his hair. Pay attention to how republican's style their hair compared to democrats. Then compare Pope's hair.

Unfortunately  

Posted: September 12th, 2012 12:27 PM

@Dan. Thank you. I didn't see this column until just now - but I addressed several of your points in my post in Mr. Dean's article shortly thereafter. Does this madness EVER end? Won't these people be happy until OP truly reigns as having the #1 taxes in the country? I know many people who are fleeing this expense and many who won't move to OP at all - in spite of the great location. Very soon we'll be a town of 1% people and Section 8 people. The middle class just keeps shrinking. Why?

Bill from Forest Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2012 12:23 PM

Good article, good points on the expense. I'd add that it's probably not wise to add all that traffic to the Village Hall area.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2012 11:45 PM

Dan, welcome to the many tax payers who can't find anymore money. Tax payers need to act like parent's and put that sad little face on their kid. "Little Johnnie, Mommy and Daddy loves you a whole bunch but we don't have any more money". Kids do what they do, they'll jump up and down trying to convince you that you are ruining their career, but they'll get over it and you won't need to take on a third job to pay for something your kid really didn't need.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 11th, 2012 11:04 PM

Dan - great article. I agreed with you on every point. I am glad you congratulated D97 and Parks and Rec for seeking new ways to do things in the village. I hope they keep molding the idea until they reach a solution filled with wisdom. Your article reminded me of an old Mike Tyson quote, "Everyone has a plan - until they get punched in the face." I don't think Mike was talking about punching with a pencil!

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